The Overlooked Conservative Case for Reining in Big Tech
Democrats aren’t the only ones ready to rewrite the antitrust rules for internet platforms
Never in world history has one sector of the global economy risen to such global dominance, so fast, as Big Tech has in the past 20 years.
In 2000, Amazon was an online bookseller, Apple was still an underdog, Google was a scrappy startup with little revenue, and Facebook didn’t exist. Today, along with Microsoft, they are the world’s five most valuable companies, and their decisions carry a level of global influence rivaled only by nation-states. They exert control over what we can say, how we can say it, what we buy, and what we read, and they wield unilateral power over the countless smaller businesses that rely on their platforms.
Until about five years ago, a prevailing 21st-century view was that the internet sector was so dynamic that upstarts could come along at any point and depose the giants: Just look at how Google and Apple blew past Microsoft, or how Facebook conquered MySpace. That view is no longer tenable, as the top platforms’ network effects, lock-in, access to data, diversification of business lines, and ability to buy or copy rivals has given them advantages that now appear nearly insurmountable. The relevant business question is no longer, “Will they stay on top?”, but rather, “What markets will they conquer next?” (The one competitive threat that still looms is that China-based giants could outmaneuver them with products such as WeChat and TikTok. But the Trump administration’s crackdown on Chinese tech has abruptly curtailed that threat domestically, and India’s crackdown has mitigated it in the largest non-aligned market.)
What to do about that concentration of power, if anything, is a question that has rapidly grown in urgency. There is an emerging consensus that antitrust action in some form is warranted, including among Republicans who are naturally skeptical of government intervention in markets. But there has been little clarity or agreement as to what form that action should take — until now.